One of the stone structures the Shubayqa site. The fireplace, where the bread was found is in the middle.

A prehistoric stone fireplace in Jordan held extremely stale bits of flatbread baked before the advent of farming. Credit: Alexis Pantos

Archaeology

A trail of crumbs leads to world’s oldest known bread

Ancient kitchen scraps reveal that bread came before agriculture.

A sprinkling of prehistoric crumbs shows that humans baked bread long before the advent of farming.

Fortunately for archaeologists, the hunter-gatherers who lived at a site called Shubayqa 1 in northeast Jordan did not deep-clean their baking areas. Two stone fireplaces at the site contained charred plant remains. Scrutiny by Amaia Arranz-Otaegui at the University of Copenhagen and her colleagues showed that the remains have the telltale porosity of bread crumbs, which probably came from flatbreads baked on a hot stone or in fireplace ashes.

The flatbreads’ ingredients included wild wheat, barley and other grains, as well as a type of wild tuber. At more than 14,000 years old, the bread is the oldest known. It pre-dates agriculture, which emerged in roughly the same region, by about 4,000 years. For Shubayqa’s residents, bread — which required laborious milling and grinding — was probably a delicacy rather than a staple.